Our family has been living and farming in N.Z for over 800 years. My wife Sue and I discovered the Waiata vineyard site in 2004 and purchased the property with the help of some financiers that could see the potential of the land. From there we went on to purchase and develop a further three vineyards in Marlborough and have since added a number of contract growers with a conscience and ethical business practices to the family business.
In the beginning we farmed the same way as everyone else in N.Z. You spray to keep the weeds in check, to keep the bugs away, and to increase yield per vine. It worked but it never really sat that well with me. After a few years we started to push each other to consider something different. I had always liked the concepts of permaculture and Kaitiakitanga (guardianship of the land) and our vineyards manager Pete Kerdemelidis had worked great results with vine health and fruit quality and trophy winning wines working on organic vineyards in Central Otago.
We began by using merino lambs to graze out the weeds under the vines in the winter, drastically reducing the need to spray herbicide undervine and also reducing mower use on our swards. Then we began replacing our chemical fertilisers with fish products and seaweeds and saw some great results with the vines and fruit quality. It felt great to be working with these products that were good to use and great for the land, you could see life coming into the soil with increased biological activity in the soil (lots more worms).
The more we talked about organics and the more we researched it, the more it felt like the way we wanted to farm and grow fruit. Using organic products and organic principles got our team excited and we had more advocates within the business to farm sustainably and organicly. Also it just felt right for our land and family business with our Maori heritage and spiritual kinship with the land, we realized that our ancestors had been right in their approach of caring for and improving the land for future generations by listening to the rhythms of the seasons and improving the land for future generations by farming sustainably and organically.
We want to produce the best wines in the world and do not believe we can do this with fruit from vines that have been sprayed with insecticides, herbicides and pesticides. We believe to create great wine we need healthy vines that are in balance with the land in which they grow and for the land and it’s soil to be healthy and full of life.
Although we were advised to trial different parts of the vineyards for a number of years to assess how a full transition to organics might work for the vineyards we didn’t want to wait any longer. Our instincts and our hearts were telling us this was the right thing to do and the right way to make ultra- premium quality wine. We decided to start farming organically right away and to work out the rest as we went along.
We are idealistic about how wine (and for that matter food) should be produced and we know that most of us are the same – if price was the same and given the chance to select an organic product over a non-organic product most of us would select the organic product knowing instinctively that it is better for us and also better for the planet.
There was a letter written by Chief Seattle to the president of the U.S in 1855 when the government was proposing to take over his land. It was a beautiful letter and really was an insight into conservation and sustainability that was written long before those words were ever dreamed up. In it Chief Seattle spoke of a deep spiritual attachment to the land, earth and the environment and a sense of disbelief that these new men who had come to their lands could take a beautiful lush forest, full of life and diversity and chop it all down and leave only stumps, or turn a fresh mountain stream into a polluted rancid waterway, or slaughter thousands of Buffalo, take their hides and leave the rest of the carcass to rot in the sun on the prairies. These things the Chief could not comprehend and you can feel his pain at seeing these barbaric acts against nature and the land that he loved so dearly.
This letter was something that really touched me from the first time and many times after that I would read it (I hung a print of it in our bathroom at our bach in the mountains).
The end of the letter was quite prophetic in foreseeing the loss of many of these beautiful habitats to ever growing cities, trains and telegraph wires.
Chief Seattle saw this constant assault on nature as “The end of Living and the beginning of Survival”.
We believe that the more of us that care for our planet through the way we make our products and the choices that we make in the products that we buy in a small way starts to turn back the clock towards truly living in this world rather than merely surviving.
Ko taku mihi tuatahi, he mihi ki te Atua nana nei i hangai nga me katoa.
No reira tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou.
Ko Mauao te maunga